Filed under: chile, cities, coffee, pollution, santiago, south america, tea, travel
I’ve just moved to Arica for a couple of months. A big factor in our decision to move was the smog in Santiago. It’s a pity, because Santiago is such a clean, safe, fun place. I bet it could make the top 20 world’s most liveable cities list, with it’s great parks and public transport system – if it weren’t for the traffic and pollution. We’ll be back there later in the year most likely, but we couldn’t bear the prospect of the smog getting worse as winter descended, so we got away to the clear skies, sweeping beaches and national parks in the north of the country.
So thumbs down to Santiago for being so polluted. Thumbs up, however, to these awesome places that made my month in Santiago lots of fun, despite the smog. I intend to visit all of these places again next time I’m in Santiago, and if you happen to be in town I recommend you do the same. I’ll start with my local neighbourhood and fan out from there.
Providencia is a great suburb (‘barrio’ in Spanish) for strolling through parks and enjoying some of the best food Santiago has to offer. I took this video in Providencia one morning, in the park next to Baquedano station. This park stretches from one end of Providencia to the main art gallery in Bellas Artes.
There’s a cute little literary cafe in Parque Baquedano. It took us a while to get the courage to go in, because they have a membership system and we didn’t know if we were allowed. However the draw of sipping expresso in their leafy cafe area with its scholarly ambiance was strong enough that we braved potential humiliation at being turned away to venture inside. W got an espresso for about a dollar, and were able to sit and peoplewatch as long as we liked. They didn’t ask us for membership cards or look at us strangely. In my imperfect Spanish I translated from their site that you can donate a book instead of paying for yearly membership, which appeals to me.
At the other end of Providencia, near Pedro de Valdivia station, are some great restaurants and shops. One of my favourites is El Huerto – a must visit even if you’re not vegetarian. It’s worth seeing its great sunken dining room with a mural of Patagonia and wooden beams overhead, and if you’re craving Indian they have a few things on the menu to sate your appetite before another few weeks of guacamole and quinoa. We had our farewell dinner in Santiago with a group of friends in their sunken dining room. For something more casual I really liked Shot Cafe on Avenida Providencia. They make great coffee, which is organic and biodynamic. I enjoyed the cheap daily specials and they had excellent salads and sandwiches, which they happily modified for the vegan. You could probably make do just with English there, too. Maybe. Another reason I like Shot Cafe is they had a great sound system which could have been playing from my iPod, with a bass-rich mix of Massive Attack and some peppier Beck as a backgound for our peoplewatching.
Lastarria is probably my favourite suburb of Santiago though, with a cool mix of cafes and local designer shops and the must-see Cerro Santa Lucia, my photos from which are locked on my camera. The cord to connect said camera to my computer is on the way in a package from Australia as we speak, so they should be up soon, Australian and Chilean postal systems permitting. A friend told us that medieval sword fighting goes on beneath the castle atop Cerro Santa Lucia on Saturday mornings, which we weren’t organised enough to verify but is tempting enough to be worth a morning visit next time we’re i town.
Barrio Lastarria is organised enough to have its own deservedly funky website, which is worth checking for the latest goings-on if you’re in town. There’s a super-cool clothes and accessories shop called Hecha in Chile – Made in Chile. Despite having a “don’t buy anything for the first few months” policy I couldn’t help but buy two dresses, and a hoodie for Tim there. In fact, the only shopping indiscretions I allowed myself in Santiago were all in Lastarria. If you prefer local designers to chains then this is your stomping ground.
On the other side of Providencia from Lastarria, Bellavista is also worth a visit, but I put it further down my list because it’s in every guidebook and on all the tours and so is a bit hackneyed. At night the main street, Pio Nono, is pretty feral with its crass bars and drunkards. But if you go to the end of that street during the day you can get the cheap furnicular to the top of Parque Metropolitano de Santiago – South America’s loftier answer to New York’s Central Park. If you head up several hours after rainfall you’re treated to a view like this. On your way to or from the park, diverge from the main street a little to visit La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes. There are tours in English or Spanish, or you can just sit, relax and enjoy the cool architecture and vibe over a coffee in their upstairs cafe.
A couple of my favourite places in the centre of town are the La Vega fruit market, behind El Mercado Central, which is really just a fish market, unlike my home town’s Adelaide Central Market which has everything. I found the central market here to be too cramped and sleazy; lots of men trying to coerce me to dine at their establishments. Not cool at all. La Vega, however, it great fun. I’m going to write a separate entry about it when I can download my photos from there, which will give you more of an idea. The centre also has another favourite of my cafes on Calle Esmerelda, La Boa Torio. The name is a play on laboratory, thanks to their alchemy-inspired looseleaf tea mixes and presentation of spices in test tubes. What really rocks about this place though is the upstairs sanctuary. Climb a tiny ladder and you find possibly the cosiest place to sip tea in South America.
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